What happens when a father discovers that his teen son has disappeared from his basement bedroom during a flash flood? What happens when a typical father of two about to spend a lazy hour or two without any family obligations finds a cigarette near the dishwasher in his non-smoking family's kitchen? What happens when a young man in a menial job gets a chance to live out his wildest dreams with a stunning older woman?
These are the kinds of questions Keith Lee Morris deals with in the 13 short stories collected in Call It What You Want. The stories, some in different form, first appeared in a variety of "little" literary magazines: Tin House (the publisher of the collected volume), New England Review, StoryQuarterly, and others. They are stories that attempt to deal imaginatively with the human condition in the best tradition of writers like John Cheever, Flannery O'Conner and the like. They are character-driven explorations of seemingly ordinary people faced with extraordinary circumstances. They are literary stories for a literate reader.
Sometimes they seem caught up in a Kafkaesque world that swamps its protagonists in nightmare scenarios beyond their comprehension. In "Tired Heart," a man embarking on a cross country move agrees to pick up some packages for a man he doesn't know for a large sum of money. He is given a set of instructions and rules to follow, which seem simple when he gets them, but almost as soon as he starts on his trip, he finds not only make no sense, but become impossible to follow. It is a predicament every bit as strange as that into which Josef K. awakens in The Trial.
In "Blackout," a man loses all memory of an evening spent with an old girlfriend at a high school reunion. In "Desert Island Romance," a man and woman marooned on an island recreate their old lives in their imaginations.
Often the stories deal with people tormented by guilt. "Testimony," the first story in the book, is narrated by a young meth addict who has turned states' evidence in the trial of one of his friends for the murder of another friend, one who had looked up to the narrator as a kind of older brother. At first the reader has to question the reliability of a narrator content to live in a fog of drugs playing games and watching tennis on the tube, but gradually it becomes clear that the young man is suppressing his own feelings of guilt.